It’s March in Vancouver and this winter has been bleak, snow and cold and dark and wet and snow and dark, it’s been hailed as the worst winter Vancouver has seen in years according to the local folk.

The St. Patricks weekend saw the first few days of sun & blue skies signalling the end of the winter hibernation, this got me motivated into printing out some work vacation forms the following week and planning some road trips in anticipation of the better weather to come.  I booked 10 days off for the end of May, supposedly the best time to hit Yellowstone to avoid the summer crowds and traffic jams around the park, the catch for this benefit is cold nights, it gets down to below freezing at night this time of the year which is at odds with my three-season camping gear.  I’ll chance frosty nipples over herds of tourists any day…

There’s a pretty fitting image posted on the Victoria Buzz website showing the Cherry Blossoms state of bloom from March this year compared with the same time last year, even the trees are like… fuck it, I’m taking another months kip!

 

Trip Route


The route as far as Yellowstone was preplanned but everything after was just off the cuff depending on how much time I had left after leaving Yellowstone.  My odometer had clocked 4,645km by the time I got back to Vancouver, the trip was 10 days with 2 free days in the park and passed through 7 states.  The cost of gas for the entire trip was less then $200, the CBR does ~100km to the gallon so it’s cheap as chips to run.

Preparation


I had two months to ready the plan of action, myself, and the motorbike for a 10 day trip.  I own a 300cc street bike, it’s not designed for hauling a hundred odd litres of camping/cooking/living crap over thousands of kilometers on a whistle stop tour so that was the first fire to fight, short of buying an adventure motorcycle more suited for this kind of trip, I decided to take the cheapskate alternative and make a luggage rack for the bike and turn it into a ‘sport touring’,  so… three meters of half inch copper pipe, a blow torch, a handful of copper couplings, some plumbers flux & solder, multiple trips to homedepot on a partly disassembled motorbike, various nuts and bolts, a rivet nut gun, eight hours of my life, scorched motorcycle paint work and a roll of black electrical tape….later, I had the motorcycle rack I always dreamed of, if I were to dream about such things.

To make and fit the rack I stripped the back end off the bike… rear wheel, fairings and lights to reveal the subframe so that I could figure out how to mount the rack, the part of the subframe that I wanted to attach 1 bar of the rack had so much other crap fixed to it such as the rear seat latching mechanism, that drilling a hole all the way through for a bolt was not possible, instead I decided to buy a rivet nut gun from amazon so I could fix some steel threaded rivets into the motorcycle frame and bolt my rack onto these, this was definitely the way forward.

I already had two 24 litre bicycle panniers that I used on a previous bicycle road trip so I planned on repurposing these,  I also bought a 50 litre dry bag from MEC to use as the main storage, I just needed a rack layout that I could easily and securely attache these panniers to.  I figured out the rack design as I went, starting with fixing the 2 bottom bars to the bike then eyeing up the rest of the build, securing the joints with flux, copper and a blow torch along the way.  Once I built up one side I used its measurements to replicate the other side.  For the bottom copper pipes that carry all the load I found some solid aluminium bar that fitted inside the 1/2 inch copper pipe perfectly, I did this to prevent bending/flexing under load and also to stop the copper pipe from pinching/squishing when tightening the bolts through the pipe and into the subframe.

Despite some initial reservations as to hot this rack would hold up over distance, I can now attest to its design, It held up flawlessly to my 5,000km road-trip supporting 100 litres and 30 to 40kg of stuff, a quarter of which just came along for the ride.

I also kitted out the handlebars with Oxford handlebar muffs and heated grips because nothing sucks more than cold wet stinging hands, I used these all the way over to Yellowstone and down as far as Salt Lake City where the weather went from winter to summer over the course of half a day.

 

Day one


The first day saw the ride head east from Vancouver, Canada towards Abbotsford for the border crossing down into the U.S., the border crossing took a good hour as it was backed up with camper vans all heading south for the long weekend.  The route passed through a town named Concrete where I was caught unaware by the big concrete silos of the town that left me scratching my brain trying to figure out why they were so familiar…, it was the 1993 movie This Boys Life, with Leonardo De Caprio as a boy growing up there.

From Concrete the route passed through the Northern Cascades where the passage through the mountains had just reopened for the summer only yesterday, the roads were clear but the banks all the way through had a meter high bank of ploughed snow on either side.

After the Northern Cascades came Winthrop, with all the stores & store fronts made from wood, this place looks like something out of a wild west movie.  The final stop for the night was at Spring Canyon Campground, Coulee Damn, WA some 500km from Vancouver.

 

Day two


Day 2 covered 650km from Coulee Damn, Washington to Butte, Montana.  The interstate was relatively quiet and with a speed limit of 80mph (130kph) road gets eaten up pretty quickly.  The bike does just under 300km to a tank so I had to stop every 2 hours to fill it again.

I tried to take a detour off the highway cutting through Lolo forest towards Thompson Falls but it was too early in the year and as I climbed I came into show and had to turn back.  I hit Butte in the early evening and camped at the KOA, threw up my tent and walked into Butte for a few beers and bar hopping with some local folk.

 

Day three/four


I hit Yellowstone National Park this afternoon, an easy 300km ride from Butte, entering via the west side the motorcycle park pass was $25 and is valid for one week.  The first mission was to find a campsite before the rest of the Saturday crowd descend on the park and bed in for the weekend, not many of the campsites are open this time of the year but Norris Campground just opened the night before so I went straight for that, there was plenty of space by the time I arrived and after being treated like an 8 year old boy by the  park campsite rangers I paid for 2 nights @ $20/night so I could unload all my stuff for 2 days and explore the park on my old bike again.

Both nights camping were pretty cold, even with two sleeping bags, an inflatable mattress, and a thick foam mat.  It obviously wasn’t to cold to sleep because I remember dreaming about forgetting to oil my motorbikes steering bars & it all ceased up when I got back to it…which isn’t even a thing.  The next morning there was frozen water on top of the bear box beside my tent & a jar of olive oil I had for cooking that solidified into butter.

The first evening a momma bear and her cub wandered into the campsite which prompted swift action by the rangers.  They loaded up rifles with bear bangers and shot them at the two bears which sent them off scuttling into the woods for cover.

I spent two days riding around the park with great sunny blue skies all day long, along the way there were Elk, Bison, Coyote, Eagles, Bears, Old Faithful and many of the other spewy, steamy, boiling, muddy, erupting volcanic features of Yellowstone.

The highlight was seeing a wolf kill a baby bison under its mothers nose and eventually eat it.  It took momma bison an hour of nudging the dead baby walking away, moaning and running back to baby, each time she walked away she got a little further before groaning and running back to nudge the baby followed by random bouts of chasing away the lone wolf, finally, an hour later she gave up the game and left the area completely while the wolf swooped in and feasted on some luke warm lunch.

 

Day 5


Yellowstone to Salt Lake City, passed through Jackson, a cool little town in Wyoming south of Yellowstone. I stopped for food and coffee at the Cowboy Coffee Joint in Jackson and left the ass on the street a few doors down.  Two Idaho lads with motorbikes walked in and came over to me wanting to know if the bike down the road was mine, they then wanted fist pumps an told me I was a true adventurer, we chatted for 10 minutes before they went on their way.  This place had a real nice vibe to it and had I more time I would have stayed a day or two.

The bike was well down on oil when I checked it at one point today for the first time, it never burns oil normally so I’m out of the habit of checking it regularly but I guess running it at full throttle for 2 hour stints gets through some oil, I was at a gas station when I checked it so I bought a litre and topped it off.

The next few hours were spent getting to Salt Lake City where I booked into a motel beforehand so I could shower, charge my shit, and go for beers.  The motel was a total dump, it smacked of crack house with all the sketchy people hanging around outside their rooms, I think they use this place as homeless accommodation.  I wasn’t sure my bike would be in the parking lot the next morning… anyway…time for some drinks!

I went for a few beers in Salt Lake City and still in camping mode when I got back to the motel the munchies made me cook up some noodles in the washroom on my camping stove to avoid setting off the smoke alarm, nom nom..

 

Day 6


Today was some good riding, the best part was that with each minute of riding, Salt Lake City was getting further and further behind me!  The route went through Utah, Nevada & Idaho passing through mile after mile after mile of salt flats which were pretty cool, at one point there was a fully decorated Christmas tree just randomly placed in the flats like someone did it for fun.  It stuck out like a Christmas tree on the Salt Flats!

Coming into Twin Falls I rode over a bridge across a huge canyon on my way to tonight’s campsite, as I was passing over the bridge, a guy had stood up onto the railing and I saw him jump in my wing mirror just after I passed, I wanted to stop and have a look but there were too many cars on my ass, I figured it had to be a base jump and Googling it after it looks like this bridge is a base jumpers paradise.

I camped at the KOA campsite just outside Twin Falls which is deffo worth a stop for the night.

 

Day 7


Today’s ride was from Twin Falls to Pendleton covering 560km and it feels like I’m on the homeward trip back to Vancouver.  Nothing much went down today except for some amazing skies at the campsite I found for the night.

 

Day 8


Today I hit Portland but not before riding some of the best road I’ve seen yet, the 216 linking grass valley and Tygh Valley is pretty epic.  I only hit it by chance when I got bored of the highway and came off to ride some back roads.

I stayed one night in Portland and hooked up with my buddy Tommy who lives here that I first met in Hawaii 2 years before.  We grabbed some beers in his hood before I ubered back to my guesthouse for the night.

 

Day 9 & 10


The last two days were spent travelling from Portland to Vancouver via Quilcene and the ferry from Port Townsend to Whitby Island, I was gonna pop into my Cuz in Olympia on route but I was exhausted so kept going to have one rest day before the dreaded back to work on Monday morning!

Some Other Stuff…


The Oxford handlebar muffs were great for the wind and the rain, they did piss me off a few times though, at the start of the trip, usually on the highway the bike would loose power all of a sudden leaving me wondering what the fuck was going on, the muffs kept hitting the kill switch leaving me fumbling to get it back on while the bike was engine breaking and cars behind wondering what the hell I was doing.

After fixing that problem I hit another one coming into Salt Lake City where I was driving into a pretty strong headwind and the bike was not going past 110km, it was like it had now power left, this one freaked me out for over an hour, and I was as far away from Vancouver as I was ever going to get on this trip so breaking down here would have been a complete pain.  Eventually I figured out that the strong headwind combined with speed was forcing the Oxford muffs into the front break leaver so I was breaking and accelerating at the same time without knowing it.  Once I figured this out I stopped at the roadside and whipped off the muffs, enough!

Another thing I could have done with were mirror extensions, mostly all I could see were my panniers and a kickstand extension to support the weight of all the extra load, it was a balancing act getting on and off.

I had a throttle lock I got off a buddy before I left, this was pretty useful as your hand gets pretty tired on the throttle hour after hour.

 

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Comments
  1. Dean says:

    Great read & photos again Tony. Love the homemade panniers…savage job. 👍🏻👏🏻

    Like

  2. Chadum says:

    Super groovy video and post!!! You bike looks as wide as a small car – how is it to balance once you are moving? Condolences to mama buffalo….bless

    Like

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